Well, we got the Rosetta Stone for Mandarin Chinese (levels 1-5) today and I started into that. The adventure of learning Chinese has begun. Given the conversations I’ve had I think I should be able to substitute Chinese as a research language for my Ph.D. program, which is going to involve taking classes at a university somewhere, but I figure that Rosetta stone is a good place to start… that and the books that I already have :). I also think, given the debates that I’ve seen and the very, very public open-ended internet brawl between the top candidates, that we might be in the process of watching the Republican party tear itself apart. At the moment there seem to be three major wings of the party: 1) the political and economic conservatives–embodied by the mainstream party and its candidates who seek to compromise where possible with democrats; 2) the extreme conservatives–embodied by the Tea Party and outsider candidates like Ted Cruz who seek to institute specific social, political, and economic policies and often go to extreme measures to do so; 3) the homespun political conservative–embodied by the supporters of Donald Trump who see someone to blame for their problems and are buoyed by the flamboyancy, ferocity, and crass honesty of their candidate.
Polls thus far have shown that white collar moderate religious and non-religious Republicans tend to favor the mainstream party to some degree, though they will not always support all mainstream candidates, but they seem to be quickly losing ground to the other two groups. I will argue that Marco Rubio was the candidate of this group, and we’ve seen how he did and why he is no longer in the running. White collar extreme religious and libertarian Republicans tend to favor the more intelligent, but hard-nosed section of the party and Ted Cruz is clearly their candidate. Blue collar Republicans tend to favor the more flamboyant and crass candidates like Donald Trump, and they are thus far the majority of the party currently represented in the voting. I’m curious to see where this goes, but I would not be entirely surprised in the next eight or twelve years to see the Republican party break down as these groups become more frustrated with one another. This is your challenge today. It’s a little bit political philosophy, and little bit sociology, and a little bit prophecy. Do you think the party will stay together or break apart? If so, when? Why and what might the split look like?
As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents your position.
So, something that I run into with fair regularity are people who will claim multiple beliefs or philosophies. Some are obviously compatible (such as Christian Republicans) while others are much more questionable (such as Christian Hindus). So, today I want you to think about this issue: how can two different systems of religious belief, philosophical understanding, and/or political thought be combined? What limitations are there? How do you determine when two systems are simply incompatible? For instance, could a person be a Christian Democrat? An Islamic Buddhist? A Christian Confucianist? A Utilitarian Hindu? An Epicurean Muslim? Etc…
The possibilities for combination are virtually endless. However, rather than simply examining two or three particular combinations and determining whether those specific thought systems are compatible, I want you to go deeper and focus on why two systems would or wouldn’t be compatible.
As always, present your answer in the form of a story of 1000 words, and have fun!
I am exhausted. Alayna and I have been sick all weekend and we haven’t been sleeping well to boot. The result has been two sick, tired people who are (in my humble opinion) getting along remarkably well… which is probably a good thing since we’re stuck together for life. This is the first time that we’ve both been really sick at the same time in the same house, so it’s been a learning experience, but I like to think that we’ve earned high marks. Anyway, on an different subject entirely, I have a story challenge, and it’s time for my favorite story challenge. I’m going to give you a series of criteria including genre, theme, some character archetypes, etc. Your job is to write a story that includes all of the features required in the challenge. If you intend to post it here, please keep it short. However, the complexity of this challenge often requires a longer story.
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Modern
Setting: Your setting is a peace conference between two warring nations. This could be a retelling of actual peace talks at some point in history or it could be set in a fantasy world (perhaps the Dwarves are finally making peace with the Goblins… … …nah, that’ll never happen).
Well, I’m not sure how many of you are Republicans, or Republican sympathetic independents, but the Reps had their first major debate on Thursday with a whopping seventeen candidates facing off in two different sets of debates (one aired at 5pm and the other at the normal time). Honestly, I think that there are several good candidates on the field this time around (which is more than I can say for the last Presidential election). Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio particularly impressed me with their passion, thoroughness, and character (though not all three in any one candidate). For your plot challenge today I want to provide you with a dilemma that I found myself in during the last Presidential election: what do you do when you don’t have a candidate?
There are two major schools of thought on this issue. The first is essentially pragmatic and argues that when you don’t have someone to vote for then you choose someone to vote against. The argument goes that you vote for the lesser of two evils and try to mitigate the damage done when there isn’t anyone good to vote for.
The other school of thought argues that voting for the lesser evil is still voting for evil. The argument generally goes that when one is asked to vote for either Lucifer or Mephistopheles, one should choose not to vote rather than vote for a devil. Now, arguments can certainly be made that candidates are not devils (though they might be questioned by those who paid close attention to Paul Ryan’s campaign tactics… especially when he flatly stated that the Republican campaign commercials weren’t concerned with the truth), but the analogy still stand. If one truly feels that neither candidate should be president, then does one have any business voting for either of them?
So, this is your task for today: write me a 1000 word story that presents and defends the position that you support on this issue. It could be one of the above positions, or it could be another position of your own devising. Have fun!
Well, I’m suddenly at a loss for something to start this post with. I’ve been talking a lot about Kant’s categorical imperative lately, probably too much for some of my friends to put up with, but unfortunately I tend to get things stuck in my head and I have to talk about them until I work them out or…. you know… go crazy trying. Anyway, this isn’t a philosophical post, and I’m officially rambling now. You know the rules of the basic theme challenge: I give you a theme and you write a story based on that theme.
Your theme: Assassination of a major political figure
Another Post by Canaan Suitt: It should be noted that this post is directed fairly heavily at our Christian Readers, though we certainly hope that other readers might enjoy it as well.
The only thing more maddening than seeing Christianity attacked with innocuous arguments that people regard as lethal is seeing Christianity defended with feeble arguments that people regard as impregnable. Such is the case with the whole Christian Nation issue. It causes people on both sides of the controversy to become highly defensive, to occasionally utter profoundly illogical statements, and, if the subject comes up over dinner, to have severe indigestion. It seems to me that for the term “Christian Nation” to have any validity whatsoever, it would have to be so altered and redefined as to destroy its usefulness. It is a term that has become connected with a slew of false conceptions. As commonly used, “Christian Nation” is the idea that the Founding Fathers were Christians devoted to founding a country wherein Christianity would forever be the cherished religion of the nation. It is presumed that America is the special beneficiary of God’s blessings, that America’s greatness is derived from this Christian heritage, and that for America to return to greatness, it must go back to its Christian roots. As Alexander Hamilton once said, “Of all chimerical claims, this is most chimerical.”
Francis Schaeffer in his book How Should We Then Live?touches on the only true meaning that “Christian Nation” could remotely convey. He distinguishes between two senses of the word Christianity. The primary sense is of a person who has come to God through the work of Christ. The secondary sense of the word denotes the idea of an intellectual tradition that, although based on ideas derived from the Bible and applicable to the sphere of politics, is disconnected from the regenerative source of Christianity. It is in this sense–that of a prevailing worldview with biblically inspired elements–that “Christian Nation” could mean anything actually corresponding to reality.
Schaeffer also notes that many of the founding fathers were deists, a point that has been made many other times. Deism is the rational acceptance of a Supreme Being that created the universe and who does not intervene in its ongoing process, a tenet which leaves no place for an incarnate, personal God. Be that as it may, analyzing the religious beliefs of the founding fathers really doesn’t answer the question at all. Assuming that the founders were Christians one and all, it doesn’t logically follow that they sought to make America a Christian Nation in the common sense. Writings they left us (personal papers and correspondences as well as public documents) demonstrate that the intention wasn’t to found a nation that would stand as a sanctuary for Christianity per se, but that would be a place where the liberty of all men–including Christians of every denomination–to freely worship and practice their religion would be a basic right. As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
In the same Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson says that “Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself…she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.” Now I, as a Christian, believe the doctrines of Christianity are Truth and that, in the protected plane of free speech (“free argument and debate”) and freedom of religion, such as our Constitution provides, Christianity will prevail.
I must now qualify that last statement–“Christianity will prevail.” First of all, the word “prevail,” connected here with Christianity, may connote an idea that I deeply disagree with, namely, that Christianity will triumph over other systems of belief through political power and preeminence. This is simply not true. Christianity will not spread via politics or political leaders, but through individual Christians and communities of Christians living in obedience to their Lord and Savior as light to a dark world (Acts 13:47). As the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (XV. The Christian and the Social Order) says, “Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.” Secondly, Christianity will spread if Christians, living authentic Christian lives, spread it. What avail is a protected plane of free speech and religious practice if the citizens who live on that plane make no use of it? It seems to me that most Christians become irate when the prevailing secular culture bashes Christianity or makes a mockery of it (a phenomenon which is only to be expected from a secular culture), and fling themselves headlong into all sorts of distempers and irrational fears when certain (mostly benign) political measures are enacted, and yet in daily life they make no use of their civic liberty to either practice or proclaim Christianity. I don’t think the law or the culture is responsible for this silence, but rather lack of belief.
It is common for humans to read something with which they disagree and to construe it in the utmost extreme sense of the author’s actual meaning. So, let me be clear. In the preceding paragraph, I did not mean that Christians, as citizens, shouldn’t take a stand for their civic rights when they are demonstrably infringed. Yet because these rights are indivisible, as President John F. Kennedy said when defending his religious beliefs, Christians should approach the issue with a concern, not only for their own rights, but also for the rights of all people. Nor does it mean that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics or go into politics. As theologian Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his book Unfashionable, Christians should be involved in all arenas of secular life, bringing light to the darkness. We must remember, however, that we will not fulfill the calling of bringing to earth the Kingdom of God through politics alone. Men are saved, and society comes under the direction of Christianity, by salvation in Christ alone.
I want to leave you with a quote from Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is the author of Republocrat–Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, a brilliant, polemical little book that is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. He said, “You can talk theonomy, theocracy, or Christian nation if you wish, but in the real world of the here and now, Christians have to cast their vote in terms of the situation, as we currently know it… Christians are to be good citizens, and to respect the civil magistrates appointed over us. We also need to acknowledge that the world is a lot more complicated than the pundits of Fox News (or MSNBC) tell us… We need to read and watch more widely… and seek to be good stewards of the world and of the opportunities therein that God has given us.”
Citation: Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?–The Rise and Decline of
Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books 2005. 109-110.
Citation: Tchividjian, Tullian. Unfashionable–Making a Difference in the World by
Being Different. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books 2009.
Citation: Trueman, Carl R. Republocrat–Confessions of a Liberal Conservative.
Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company 2010. 107-9.
“What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?” – Abraham Lincoln
Conservatism is obstructive to the pursuit of truth and harmful to the wellbeing of society when the old ways of thinking and doing things are erroneous. Conversely, Liberalism, which we may say is in essence trying the new and untried against the old and tried, is dangerous when it is merely a desire to push against tradition for its own sake, without the guidance of reason. Both may be dangerous, and for the same reason: namely, both may eschew truth for something else–tradition for the one, “liberation” for the other.
It doesn’t seem to me that the ideas we call liberal would be called liberal if they had come first. Conversely, it doesn’t seem to me that those ideas that come along and challenge the established ideas can be called conservative. Of course, established and new ideas could be called liberal and conservative, respectively, if, like Humpty Dumpty, we could call things what we please. But using the established meaning of the words, it seems to me that conservative is conservative because it comes first in time and development and liberal is liberal because it comes subsequently. Now, probably both conservatives and liberals would take umbrage at this reduction of their respective ideologies to a matter of chronology. Conservatives may counter by saying that their ideas and values are in accordance with absolute truth, regardless of what newfangled ideas may come. Liberals may give an argument not unlike the conservatives’ in that it gives their position legitimacy by according their views with the truth (in throwing off the falsehoods of tradition).
As I began by saying, so now I reiterate that the relationship between conservatism or liberalism and truth is precarious. To clarify, I am talking about conservatism and liberalism in a political context. Now if conservatism were defined and used to mean–what I don’t think it really means–accordance with absolute truth, then I would unwaveringly call myself a conservative. For, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” Liberalism, because conservatism and liberalism are opposites, would mean the open mind that Lewis condemns–would be forsaking the foundation that gives meaning to anything. But traditionalism–adherence to the old and tried–is not synonymous with adherence to truth, period. Conservatism means going along with the old and tried politically, which may be good and may not. In the context of Lincoln’s speech quoted above, it is very good, because by it he means adhering to the Constitution and being devoted to the perpetuity of union. Liberalism, politically, as doing the new and untried, may be good and it may be destructive. A liberal mindset or idea may in fact greatly improve upon the conservative way of doing things. I think of the great contribution of those “liberals” Erasmus and Luther, or those liberal measures called the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. On the other hand, rebellion against the old and tried merely because it is old and tried is no good reason to be a liberal. The standard against which both conservatism and liberalism have to be tried is truth itself.
I myself think Plato’s approach (see TheRepublic I) is the best one – to be guided by reason and the ever-pressing desire to understand and act upon the truth. I am not very concerned with labels–it seems to me that most labels are applied in hindsight by posterity or in the present by the opponents of a certain way of thinking–I am concerned with knowing the truth (“as God gives us to see the right,” as Lincoln said elsewhere and applying it to society. If this means that at times I seem conservative to those who may observe me, well, that’s fine. And so it is if I may be liberal.
This sort of person, who is not concerned for labels or movements or systematized political stances, the person whom I’ll call “The Sojourner,” will unsettle conservatives and liberals alike. On some issues, conservatives will applaud the Sojourner; on others, liberals will approve him. Both will be disturbed on many other points. Both sides will see him as an anomaly–an unstable conglomeration of diametrically opposed ideologies. Neither will welcome him entirely. “He’s delusional, you know. That chameleonic fellow thinks he can support our pro-life stuff while supporting the legalization of homosexual marriage!” Or, in a meeting room on the other side of the Capitol, “What’s he trying to do–get a bigger constituency? Everyone knows you can’t support these damn imperialistic programs and align yourself with our green initiatives! It’s just a load of BS.” For his part, the Sojourner knows the world is more complex than his friends seek to make it. In his thoughtful quest for the right, he is mostly alone (except in the company of books and rarely met like-minded people), but he knows solitariness is necessarily a part of the quest.
After lengthy consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the average human being displays the level of cognition that one would expect from a brick. Of course there are some stand-outs: men like Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Nietzsche, and Einstein commonly display the kind of intelligence that one might expect from a simple prey animal like a rabbit, or a sheep. And before you, dear reader, think that I might seek to raise myself above the fold, let me tell you that I am most certainly a brick; likely one of the lowest material, perhaps simple mud and straw, certainly without the stabilizing influence of mortar, and of the crudest make. I point this out simply to say that we are, as a whole, a thoroughly unintelligent species, enamored of our own thoughts. I say this because we, as a race, seem incapable of even a squirrel’s ability to sensibly avoid the lights of an oncoming car, and we certainly can’t even begin to approach a feline’s ability to avoid eating its own feces. We generally make the same mistakes repeatedly, and it takes a truly incredible person to actually learn from their past decisions. The general response to the recent election did nothing to alter my opinion of mankind.
I was continually discouraged as I watched my facebook newsfeed last night and saw my republican friends decrying the end of the union. I remember the election four years ago, when Obama first won, and my republican friends decried the end of the union then as well. I remember the election eight years ago when Bush was reelected to a second term, and my democratic friends decrying the end of the union. I remember the election twelve years ago, when Bush first won office, and my democratic friends doing the same (of course, at the time I was a died in the wool republican who was convinced that no Christian could ever vote for a democrat, so I didn’t have a lot of democratic friends). I remember the election sixteen years ago when Clinton was reelected, and at the time I was one of the republicans decrying the end of the union. The same thing happened twenty years ago when Clinton was first elected, and (though I was young) I seem to remember several democrats who were absolutely confident that America would fall apart the first Bush beat Dukakis for the presidency. I have news for you… we’re still here.
Now don’t get me wrong, the union will end, its inevitable, so both republicans and democrats will get their wish eventually. America will fall apart, and they can blame the other side for causing the collapse instead of actually doing something to help repair it. I’m going to guess that we’ve got twenty years, but to be honest, that number is fairly arbitrary (I made it up last night), and anyway, I’m not exactly one to talk… the guy I voted for wasn’t even on the ballot, so he had zero chance of winning. However, I can sleep well knowing that I voted for someone that I actually wanted in the White House.
This isn’t some inspiring “Let’s go change the world” post, or a “Hey, we need to do something” post. I have to admit that when it comes to the world of politics, I am determinedly fatalistic. I think I’ve seen maybe three good politicians out of the bunch, and even those are questionable. Still, it would be nice if there was a little less melodrama in the wake of every election. It kind of distracts us from the real stuff of life.
Alright, well Cassandra is taking a break for a while, but I have a great sub for her! This is the first of several posts that you’ll be seeing from Canaan Suitt:
“The Divine Comedy,” said my professor, visibly irritated, “a work which everyone likes to talk about but which no one has read.” He could have substituted the Iliad, the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, The Republic, Plutarch’s Lives, The City of God, Beowulf, The Prince, Paradise Lost, Hamlet, The Federalist Papers, Moby Dick and many other renowned pieces of literature and the same censure would hold true. Just today I had a discussion with a friend who expressed disapproval of Machiavelli’s “wretchedness,” but when I asked him if he had actually read The Prince, he responded that, of course, he had not. Or there was the pompous interlocutor who attempted to discredit Alexander Hamilton’s “big government” stance but had not even glanced at The Federalist Papers to discover what Hamilton actually said (besides, Jay and Madison wrote most of the section on the Senate which my friend was bashing). Anyone who actually reads books can only express dismay at such foolishness.
Perhaps we can forgive my friends’ vanity when we realize that the impression that we must read certain books (the “classics”) to be considered intelligent is inculcated in students throughout their education. For instance, I’ll never forget my high school English teacher who used to harp on the books that were “vitally important” to read before going into college or the condescension I sometimes received and at times gave to others when a certain book hadn’t been read. I was frowned upon for not having read 1984 in my senior year of high school; I frowned upon someone else because they hadn’t read The Screwtape Letters. First of all, this impression in and of itself is skewed. The purpose of reading “classics” is not so one can brag about one’s intelligence. It seems to me that the only valid reason for reading classics or anything else is to gain knowledge and understanding, not to obtain a membership card into the Intelligent Reader Club. But secondly, this impression isn’t even enforced by reading the books, which, it is insisted, must be read. My English teacher failed to enlighten me a great deal. Homer, Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli, Milton, and Shakespeare, are met far more frequently, and perhaps exclusively, through textbooks and other secondary sources than through what the actual authors bequeathed to the world. Like my friends in the foregoing examples, some people will feign knowledge of the primary works based on such superficial acquaintance in order to seem knowledgeable. Some people don’t read them (don’t even read the textbooks!) and don’t care, either. In both cases, the ignorance is disturbing.
More generally, many people have the impression that they ought to have an opinion, and so they express it when, in fact, they don’t have one. In America, this is especially true in politics, a fact that has been proven to a superfluous degree this election year. What most people call their political opinions are the parrot-like recapitulations of their preferred pundit. Not only have people not actually read the books that would have greatly assisted them in forming their opinions, they haven’t even thought for themselves. In consequence of this uncritical mindset, peoples’ tempers flare and they become ludicrously defensive when their political opinions are assailed. For instance, I often wondered why voters become as emotionally involved as the actual candidates during an election when their preferred candidate is criticized–and not even with a good criticism! Someone gives an insipid criticism of a Romney gaffe and the Romney supporter goes nuclear with ominous prophecies of the future if Obama is reelected. It seems to me that unthoughtfulness accounts for this phenomenon. People would rather become polemical about sound bites and birth certificates and falsely pride themselves on having an opinion rather than confront real issues as well as the candidates’ stances on those issues and thereby possess an opinion worth verbalizing. I wonder if we are the most insecure people in the history of the world!
One thing my English instructor did teach me is that I ought to conclude my writings with a rousing plea, a challenge for readers to take up. Unfortunately, I will not meet that guideline here. All I can do is express my wish that more people would read and read deeply. All I can do is express my wish that more people would think and think carefully. In his essay On the Reading of Old Books, C.S. Lewis wrote that the only palliative to a narrow, uncritical mindset is to read broadly and deeply. He said reading old books help dispel the misconceptions of the current age like a fresh sea breeze. On the other hand, reading current books help dispel the misconceptions of the past and expose the tacitly accepted mindset of the present time. Reading a three-paragraph textbook summary of Plato’s Theory of Ideals, for example, will not reveal what Plato really meant in all his nuance and complexity–only Plato can do that, and he does a far better job of it than Editor et al. That goes for any of the works I listed before and many, many more. We must read carefully and then think deeply and then repeat. That is, we must do this if we really want to understand and be thoughtfully engaged in the world. The opinions which we love to have and express will follow naturally if we do this–and they will be worth hearing!
Well, the election is coming up fast, and I don’t know about any of you, but I’m more than a little disappointed in what I’ve seen of the candidates so far. I’m not going to tell you how to vote, even if I wanted to… well, let’s just say that the ‘lesser evil’ argument lost it’s effectiveness on me a few years ago. If you can find a candidate that you actually support, then definitely get out there and vote for him! If you can’t, then I encourage you to think carefully about whether you actually want to cast your vote for a person you don’t want in office. Anyway, it’s time for the story challenge, and you probably know the rules already: You must write a story of at least a hundred words, and not more than five hundred (if you want to post it as a comment – if it’s just for yourself, then it can be as long as you want). The story must be about the theme given in this post. So, if the theme I give you is Life, don’t write a story about the lord of the underworld. If the theme is War, don’t write a story about a farmer planting his crops. Themes are very broad, so it really shouldn’t be hard to stay within a given theme, but I teach, so I know that some people have trouble with this.